7 Aug

Bledisloe Cup Safe
by Paul Waite
7 Aug 2011

The most important outcome of last nights test at Eden Park was that the All Blacks achieved their first major goal this season: to make sure that the Bledisloe Cup could be safely tucked away in the trophy cabinet. With that in mind let’s look at the rest of the game, and how the World Cup preparations are going.

There is no doubt that the final score of 30-14 flattered the All Blacks. In the first half the Wallabies failed to pick up an easy 9 points through missed kicks, and possibly blew a try. The 17-0 deficit at half-time could have been a more competetive 17-9 or even 17-all, which would have put a different complexion on the second half.

In the first quarter there were times that the All Blacks looked terribly vulnerable against the shear efficiency and inventiveness of the Aussie ball-recycling machine. The defence kept the score to Nil, but quite how that happened was not clear.

But, as the coaches pointed out in the press conference after the test, the All Blacks brought a ‘we will not be denied’ attitude to this game, and that ran through the whole team. It was that hunger and heart which made the difference in the end.

Standouts in Black were, in no particular order, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith, Dan Carter, and the loose-trio of Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, and Jerome Kaino. DC kicked everything from the tee right down the middle, and was a monster in the tackle. Our midfeld was rock solid, with Smith tackling like a demon, and Nonu a defences’ nightmare on attack. The loosies were literally in everything.

So they played with guts and heart, and won the first important trophy of the year 30-14, but this being World Cup year we have to look at what wasn’t so good as well.

This was only the second outing together, however an All Black team should not be allowing their ruck ball to be turned over the number of times it was in the second half. Later on, poor support at the ruck was mainly to blame, however the first big turnover resulted from a series of badly executed pick-and-goes from the forward pack, and directly gave away the Wallaby’s first try. Quite what the forwards were trying to prove I’m not sure. Each pick and go resulted in an immediate collapse and an inevitable frantic scramble to retain possession. That happened 3 or 4 times before the surprised Aussies finally understood they were being handed the ball, and gratefully took it to scamper down the touchline and score. Definitely a “work-on” that one.

Set-piece was another worry, with both scrum and lineout looking a wee bit shaky. Crocket seemed to struggle at test level, conceding a few free kicks as he collapsed. When Franks replaced him things were much more solid. At lineout time it was good to see us attacking their ball, and on our throws we had reasonable success but mistakes were made and generally it didn’t inspire enough confidence. In both cases we have the knowledge to fix the issues, though previous seasons with the lineout have shown that this can sometimes take longer than it should. Steve, you have a month for both.

Probably the most important area to improve on was the defence. As mentioned above it looked good on paper in the first half with that Opponents: Nil statistic, but the missed tackle stats showed a different story. The Wallabies were allowed to run that bit too far, and make too much ground as we struggled to keep adjusting our defensive lines and react to changing points of attack. By comparison, when we were on the ball, the Aussies could shut us down far more quickly in each phase, the difference being we punished the few errors they made with points and they didn’t. Clearly work needs to be done to close down that 2-3m of room we are currently allowing. If the Wallabies can do it to us, we can do it to them.

Reference was made by the All Blacks in the after-match conference to some of the team ‘running out of petrol’ towards the end. That would go a long way to explaining some of the turnovers due to lack of support at the ruck. It will also fix itself as the 3N goes on, so for now let’s not get too hung up on that area of deficiency.

I’m not counting the Fiji ‘test’ when I say that overall this match was a typical second hit-out of the test season. A huge step-up from the first one against the under-strength Boks, a lot of blemishes counter-balanced by a lot of hard physical effort and a great gutsy attitude, netting a good win.

So the All Blacks look to be on track for the World Cup. There are a lot of things to fix, but the number of those and the amount of improvement required are all pretty much as expected. The away tests in South Africa and Australia will provide a chance to iron these out.

Finally I’d like to make a plea for teams to stop selling things which don’t exist to gormless sponsors.

The Australian National Rugby Team is called “The Wallabies”. Not “The ACME Sports Emporium Wallabies”, or “The Quaint Arse Wallabies”, or whatever.

Listening to a nasal Aussie accent gabbling through a seemingly endless list of people fronting up at the press conference, and prefixing them all with “The Quaint Arse Wallaby (Captain|Coach|Vice-captain…)” isn’t going to make me choose to fly Quaint Arse. Quite the reverse, in fact.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

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